Robust comedy written in 1791 tickles New York theatergoers; Wild Oats Comedy by John O'Keeffe. Directed by Christopher Martin.
New York — The rompingly spirited production of John O'Keeffe's ''Wild Oats'' has returned to the CSC Repertory's bill of fare - joining Goethe's ''Faust'' (Parts 1 and 2) and Strindberg's ''Ghost Sonata.'' According to director-designer Christopher Martin, reincorporating O'Keeffe's robust 1791 comedy has provided ''the opportunity to redevelop the play, to explore deeper, (and) helps not only this production but everything we are doing.''
Taken on its immediate terms as stage entertainment, ''Wild Oats'' is a captivating piece - buoyant, engagingly vital, and touching. By the clarity and energy of their performances, the CSC Repertory troupers carry the spectator along through O'Keeffe's maze of plots and counterplots in which virtue triumphs only after villainy has done its foul worst.
The central character of ''Wild Oats'' is Jack Rover (Gary Sloan), a strolling player whose nature is frank and generous and who seasons his conversation with snippets of Shakespeare. Orphaned Jack doesn't know that his close friend and fellow thespian (Tom Spackman) is really son and heir to Sir George Thunder (Barry Mulholland), a blustering ship's captain whose past conceals a guilty secret. After his truant friend's departure, Jack is mistaken for the young aristocrat and innocently courts the wealthy and benevolent Quaker heiress (Amy Wagner) Sir George has chosen as the young man's bride. Jack plunges into a series of predicaments from which only his wit and courage (and O'Keeffe's ingenuity) can rescue him.
Hazlitt called O'Keeffe ''our English Moliere. In light, careless laughter, and pleasant exaggerations of the humours, we have no equal to him. There is no labor or contrivance in his scenes, but the drollery of his subject seems to strike irresistibly upon his fancy and run away with his discretion as it does with ours.''
And run away indeed it does. While the plot careens from one dilemma to another, it is the characters who make the story acceptable. In ''Wild Oats,'' they range from the hypocritical Ephraim Smooth (Noble Shropshire) and the grasping Farmer Gammon (Walter Williamson) to the victimized Banks (Howard Lucas) and his quiet sister Amelia (Mary Ellen O'Donnell). The performances throughout meet the needs of theatrical artifice while preserving the human image that makes comedy believable.
As the central figure of the tale, Mr. Sloan gives a brilliant display of bravura acting without ever losing touch with the genuine nobility of the orphaned strolling player. The approach validates the moments of sentiment. The admirable CSC Repertory cast includes Tom Spiller, Thomas Lenz, Ginger Grace, and Howard Lucas.
''Wild Oats'' is played on an open stage and side elevations. Sliding rear panels suggest changes of scene. A gaggle of raggedly clad Brats and Locals moves the furniture as needed and adds a touch of realism to an admirable production.